Following up my most recent post on resume writing, I figured the next logical step would be the cover letter. Many people underestimate a really good cover letter; if your resume isn’t enough to keep you in the “Maybe” pile, your cover letter might save you from the “No” pile. If you’ve been looking to work on your resume, check out my guide and template here.
Before we continue: These are my own professional findings I have gleaned from my personal experiences, you are free to use as little or as much as you’d like. I am not responsible for your final cover letter. If you’d like advice or have questions, send me an email. Now let’s get to it!
There’s many greetings one can go with. I’ll share my favorites and not-so-favorites.
To Whom It May Concern
Too impersonal for me. It ranges somewhere between a legal document and a kidnapper’s note.
Dear Sir or Madam
I feel like this is very dated. Most of the women I’ve known in hiring capacities get offended or confused at “Madam” and prefer “Ma’am” or “Miss”. This also has the problem of only addressing one Sir or Madam, whereas you might be addressing a whole team of Sirs or Madams.
Dear [Hiring Manager, Hiring Team, etc]
I’ve always felt this to be a little too personal. For some people, this might feel natural. For me, it feels a little “too much, too fast”. It’s your call, you do you.
Unless you’re applying for Lord Wellington’s library of monocle research or have a mustache you can twirl, I can’t recommend this one in good faith.
This one’s not half bad. It feels a little wooden to me, like in a robot or Mr. Spock kind of way. I would only use this if there were some kind of common ground. For example, If I were applying to the University of Florida, I might say “Greetings, Fellow Gators”.
Ladies and Gentlemen
This is my favorite. It’s timeless, speaks to multiple people, and I think it’s a little more personal/inviting. I’ve had a few colleagues (usually millennial or Gen-Z) tell me they prefer gender-neutral or non-binary greetings. That’s fine, I understand and respect their views. However, the majority of people I’ve interviewed with (usually Gen-X, Baby Boomer or Silent Generation) didn’t grow up with non-binary culture and aren’t familiar with it. Your experience might be different, that’s totally okay. You use what you’re most comfortable with.
The Main Event
So little things, so little space. Here are the rules I try to stick to.
Know Your Goal
No matter what the job is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You have limited space, so you’ll have to make it count. The cover letter I would create for a Circulation Manager and the one I would create for a Technical Services Manager wouldn’t be the same. Why would I use precious space talking about my customer service skills for a position that never works with the public? Choose what applies to each job you’re applying for. I know it’s tough to do so, it’s downright sucky having to customize each one. If you want that job, however, a cookie-cutter cover letter may not cut it.
Hook Them In
Every loves a good story. Perhaps you’re originally from XYZ and you’ve come back home. Maybe you’ve been long-distance with your partner and this job will finally bring you both together. Whatever the reason, getting somebody emotionally connected to you makes it harder for them to put you in the “No” pile. Are they going to be the one that keeps you from your beloved? Nobody wants to be that person. It doesn’t need to be anything dramatic, but take a sentence or two to acquaint them with your story.
However, I need to stress: DO NOT LIE. DO NOT LIE. Don’t make up something, because that will come back to bite you. On a scale of “I don’t trust that guy” to “please empty your office by 5:00”, it’s not worth the risk of lying. If you don’t have any special reason compelling you to that job, then take a moment to mention something you have in common. If you love fishing and they’re their slogan is “The fishing capital of Iowa”, then mention that.
Numbers are important
Do you want to say, “I work for the Smallville Public Library as a Reference Librarian”, or do you want to say, “I currently serve as a Reference Librarian for the Smallville Public Library system, located in Central Iowa with a population of 160,000 and a budget of $4,166,557”? Those kind of specifics tell whoever is reading your cover letter several things:
-The population size you’re serving
-The budget you’re used to working with
-That you see the bigger picture in regards to scale
-That you took the time to look this up and include it
-You’ve most likely already looking up their numbers as well
If you’re moving to a smaller system, you’ve just implied you can handle them. If you’re moving to a larger system, you’ve just implied you’re aware that they are larger and that you’re prepared to handle them.
Have you managed people before? Be sure to mention how many, and how long you’ve been leading them.
Are you on any local committees? Participate in any neighborhood groups? Do you represent the library in any capacity anywhere? Did you get a grant? Let them know!
Were you part of re-writing the circulation policies? Did you assist with transitioning to RFID? Have you performed an inventory before? Did you assist in the creation of the library social media? Any milestone or achievement you can fit in is good.
Other Skills or Education
Do you have any special skills that might come in handy? If you’re applying for a front desk kind of job and you have 4 years of retail/customer service experience, now’s the time to tell them. If you have multiple degrees, be sure to bring that up. If I were to apply to a job tomorrow, would I mention my Bachelors in Theater and that I’m months away from my MBA if I were? You bet!
If you have a professional Facebook page or website and you’d like to share it, feel free. More than likely, they’ll never look at it. However, if they’re only interviewing 10 candidates and you’re number 11, it might be the one thing that tips the scales and gets you on number 10. You simply don’t know, but you have to take every opportunity possible. With as much work as I’ve put into Brash Librarian the past decade, it would be a crime not to mention it.
Ah, the finish line. How to complete your masterpiece?
Going back to Dear Sir or Madam, this feels a little dated. Yes, I’ve seen people use this phrase.
I like it. It’s neat, to the point, and generally accepted.
My dad used to use this on letters when he was an attorney. There’s a certain elegance in its brevity, I hover between this and Sincerely.
Why do I have to be respectful? Did I disrespect them somehow? This sounds like I should be apologizing for something.
I like it for an email, I don’t like it for a cover letter.
That’s all for this episode! Be safe out there and May the Fourth be with you!
Justin Brasher, Brash Librarian